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REI ChicagoThis week, I’m headed to Chicago for a visit with family with an added bonus- an Arizona Trail speaking tour at all four REI locations! I’m excited to return to share my tour of the trail, stories from my two hikes of the AZT and tips for planning your own adventure. Come learn why this 800-mile trail is one of the top destinations in the Southwest for hikers, bikers, runners, and equestrians.

When I was growing up in Roselle, a northwest suburb of Chicago, I never would have imagined that I’d be returning in my forties for a speaking tour about the wonderful adventures I’ve had. It’s going to be so fun to see family and friends at my presentations!

Here are the dates and registration links. All talks are from 6:30-8:30 pm. Hope to see you there!

August 23rd – REI Schaumburg:

https://www.rei.com/events/learn-about-the-arizona-trail/schaumburg/154331

August 24th – REI Oakbrook:

https://www.rei.com/events/learn-about-the-arizona-trail/oakbrook-terrace/154351

August 25th – REI Chicago:

https://www.rei.com/events/learn-about-the-arizona-trail/chicago/154296

August 26th – REI Northbrook:

https://www.rei.com/events/learn-about-the-arizona-trail/northbrook/154297

Tater Canyon

Tater Canyon

Throw one for me!

Santa Ritas

Through my first of seven wilderness areas on the AZT!

Through my first of seven wilderness areas on the AZT!

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Recently I got to be a small part of a friend’s inspiring journey and I wanted to share an article I wrote:

aztyoyofinish

UltraPedestrian complete the first known yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail! Photo by Armando Gonzales

Coronado National Memorial, Arizona: On December 20th, Kathy and Ras Vaughan of Whidbey Island, Washington became the first people to yo-yo the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail. For 93 days, this adventurous couple—known by their collective trail name as UltraPedestrian—traversed  the state of Arizona twice. Starting at the US/Mexico border on September 18th and hiking to the Utah border, then immediately turning around and heading back to Mexico, the couple covered a total of 1,668 miles. They endured everything from 100-degree temperatures to several snowstorms during an unseasonably wet year.

“We wanted to experience the trail as completely as possible, seeing it in both directions and taking on a challenge that no one else has ever experienced before,” said Ras. The Vaughans thru-hiked the Arizona Trail in spring of 2014, with Kathy establishing the fastest known time for a female in 35 days. Not only is a yo-yo twice as long as a regular thru-hike of the trail, but extreme weather is more likely. They completed the trail self-supported and hiked in and out of the gateway communities, adding 68 miles to their journey to resupply rather than accepting rides.

“Meeting people along the trail and in the gateway communities helped us understand the connection between the people and the places of Arizona,” said Kathy. “The challenge of the trail helped us improvise solutions to the problems that came up, whether it was dealing with gear issues or weather conditions.”

They had a SPOT tracker so that folks could follow along and shared frequent updates from the trail on Instagram and Facebook. I offered to pick them up at the Mexican border at the end of their journey and they let me tag along for the last two miles.

Kathy and Ras nearing the Mexican border

Kathy and Ras nearing the Mexican border

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Last steps toward Border Monument 102 which marks the southern terminus of the Arizona Trail

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Congrats to this incredible couple! They will be coming back to Arizona in February for a speaking tour and are writing a book, I look forward to both.

About UltraPedestrian

UltraPedestrian is Kathy and Ras Vaughan, who strive to take on unique challenges and inspire others to “find their own version of epic.” Kathy holds the women’s fastest known time for the Arizona Trail and Ras is credited with innovating Only Known Times, including a sextuple Grand Canyon crossing and a unsupported (no resupply) Washington Traverse on the Pacific Crest Trail. Their website is Ultrapedestrian and they are on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at @ultrapedestrian.

About the Arizona National Scenic Trail

The Arizona Trail is a continuous path – divided into 43 passages – across the state of Arizona and is open to all forms of non-motorized recreation, including hiking, running, backpacking, horseback riding and mountain biking (outside designated wilderness areas).

The trail traverses four forests (Coronado, Tonto, Coconino and Kaibab); three National Parks (Coronado National Memorial, Saguaro National Park and Grand Canyon National Park); one State Park (Oracle); eight counties; BLM land; and other municipalities.

There are 33 gateway communities located near the trail, which provide necessary services for trail users and benefit from the positive economic impact generated by the outdoor community. The Arizona Trail features more biodiversity than almost any other trail in the nation, and includes all but two of Arizona’s biotic communities.

The Arizona Trail is only the third National Scenic Trail to reach completion (Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail are the other two). The majority of funds supporting the Arizona Trail come from members, donors, business partners, corporations, foundations and grants. For more information, please visit www.aztrail.org.

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It’s that time of year again for a retrospective of where I’ve wandered- and this one has been busier than most! You have been warned- it’s pretty heavy on the pictures. Grab a beverage.

When the year began, I was already neck-deep in planning my Arizona Trail Trek. It was a logistical Hydra coordinating the two and a half month schedule with 13 fundraisers, all the public hikes and backpacking trips, shuttles, media contacts, and a million little details. It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for hiking.

I did manage a Sabino-Bear loop and a trip up Agua Caliente Hill, always good choices for the colder months.

Umbrella weather in January

Umbrella weather in January on Agua Caliente Hill

In February, I hiked the Romero Trail to Romero Pass, a good workout along a gorgeous canyon.

Comfy seat at the waterfall campsite

Comfy seat at the waterfall campsite

Sunset lights up Samaniego Ridge

Sunset lights up Samaniego Ridge

I also turned 40 in February and celebrated with a visit from my friend Kristin. We’ve been friends since I was 4 and lived two doors down. She still lives in the Chicago suburbs and I was so happy to get to spend some time with her at the High Jinks Ranch and in Oracle.

Me and Kristin

Me and Kristin

Out for my 40th!

Out for my 40th!

On March 14th, I started my Arizona Trail Trek with a hike to the Mexican border and the kickoff event in Sierra Vista with food, music, and Arizona Trail Ale. A great beginning to an incredible experience.Arizona Trail Trek Logo

Arizona Trail Trek Start

Arizona Trail Trek Start

Mexican Border on the Arizona Trail

Mexican Border on the Arizona Trail

The rest of March was spent hiking north toward Tucson, with events in Patagonia, Arizona Trail Day at Colossal Cave Mountain Park and I even held and performed at a Belly Dance event at Sky Bar in Tucson. That’s got to be a long-distance hiking first!

Santa Ritas

Santa Ritas

Terry with River taking a rest on Katie

Terry with River taking a rest on Katie

Wildflowers!!

Wildflowers!!

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

My Arizona Trail Trek continued through April and May- it was quite a challenge and I am surprised that I stayed on schedule or early throughout the trip. I was so fortunate that I and everyone with me stayed healthy and safe throughout. I became a Trail Ambassador for Gossamer Gear this year, and was really happy with the way my Mariposa pack performed throughout my hike.Rincon Sunset

Rincon Sunset

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Camp above Ripsey Wash

Camp above Ripsey Wash

Lovin' the pass!

Lovin’ the pass!

Roosevelt Bridge

Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

What a place!!

What a place!!

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Just me and my llama

Just me and my llama

Happy to be in the cool pines!

Happy to be in the cool pines!

What a great group!

What a great group!

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Cedar Ridge with O'Neill Butte to the left

Cedar Ridge with O’Neill Butte to the left

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls

What a trail!

What a trail!

Tater Canyon

Tater Canyon, Kaibab Plateau

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, Arizona/Utah border

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, Arizona/Utah border

It had been a dream of mine to thru-hike the Arizona Trail since I learned about it in 2007 and I’m so glad that my hike was able to bring wider recognition to the trail I love so much. I raised almost $18,000 for the Arizona Trail Association and I’ll be doing a series of talks in the new year, check out my Speaking page to find one near you!

I was pretty tired after my thru-hike, but I had less than three weeks left until I had to start my season working on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. I had an incredible season- met a lot of wonderful people, hiked them all over the place, and told a million stories.

Comanche Point and Palisades

Comanche Point and Palisades

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado Confluence

In case you haven’t heard, the Little Colorado River Confluence pictured above is threatened by a possible development with a tram and a restaurant right at the river’s edge- please visit Save the Confluence to learn more and sign the petition!

After my river season ended in mid-September, the inevitable crash came. I am usually pretty wiped out after river season anyway, but combined with the thru-hike my body and mind were exhausted. It was not a fun time and I couldn’t even bring myself to write about how depressed and tired I was. I didn’t feel up to doing anything, I just rested and wondered if I’d ever feel like myself again. The worst part of it all was that the fatigue reminded me of all those years ago when I was sick with Fibromyalgia and I was even concerned for a while that I was having a flare-up.

I had anticipated the crash, having done other extended trips, but this one knocked me down for two months. I still managed to get out a bit, and that helped to keep me going, although it was also a reminder of how incredibly tired I was.

Maples on Mount Lemmon

Maples on Mount Lemmon

Windy Point Sunset

Windy Point Sunset

Whitmore Overlook

Whitmore Overlook

Finally, I started to get my energy back and the feeling of emptiness that depression brings waned. It felt great to be enthusiastic about the days ahead again. I traveled to Page for work and took a drive into the Grand Staircase-Escalante up Cottonwood Road. All sorts of great stuff to explore in that area. I hiked a peak I can see out of my backyard, Peak 3263 (or the southern end of the “Sombrero”, just to see what was up there. And then I did the classic Aspen to Saguaro hike from Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park. Over 6000 feet of elevation loss through an array of different life zones. It felt great to be able to hike all day again.

Thousand Pockets

Thousand Pockets

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch, GSEM

Sombrero and Panther Peaks from Peak 3263

Sombrero and Panther Peaks from Peak 3263

Lemmon Rock Lookout

Lemmon Rock Lookout

Looking out toward the West Fork and the Rincons

Looking out toward the West Fork and the Rincons

December brought a trip to the Cienega for fall colors and a backpacking trip in the Santa Ritas with some lovely ladies and Jasmine the Mini-donkey!

Cienega Creek Fall Colors

Cienega Creek Fall Colors

Antelope at Empire Ranch

Antelope at Empire Ranch

Starting out at Temporal Gulch TH

Starting out at Temporal Gulch TH

Jasmine on the Arizona Trail

Jasmine on the Arizona Trail

Mustangs in the Morning

Mustangs in the Morning

Grassy trail with Josephine Peak and Wrightson

Grassy trail with Josephine Peak and Wrightson

There was a winter storm in mid-December and I went out to play in the icy waters of Montrose Canyon with some friends.

Montrose Canyon 1st Rappel- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon 1st Rappel- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

I spent Christmas backpacking in the Tortolita Mountains, it was a great getaway close to home.

Christmas in the Tortolitas

Christmas in the Tortolitas

Christmas Camp

Christmas Camp

I rounded out the year with a tough and spiny bushwhack to Bighorn Mountain, the last of the Pusch Ridge Peaks for me to summit. I’m going to be picking out spines for days, but it was well worth it.

Grassy shindagger and cactus-filled slope to the summit

Grassy shindagger and cactus-filled slope to the summit

Bighorn Summit- finally I've stood atop all four of the Pusch Ridge Peaks!

Bighorn Summit- finally I’ve stood atop all four of the Pusch Ridge Peaks!

Well, that was quite a year! Thanks for reading- it’s always fun to share stories of my wanderings with others. I kept track of all my hikes on HikeArizona.com and my year-end stats are 1,021 miles hiked with 150,775 feet of elevation gain- that’s equivalent to 5 Mount Everests stacked on each other. No wonder this post is so long!

Here’s to a fantastic 2015- I’m not exactly sure what it will bring but I’ve got a feeling I’ll be exploring fantastic new places. Happy New Year!!

Thanks to all who donated to the Arizona Trail Association or to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson this year!!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation NW Tucson

Baby Great Horned Owls

Baby Great Horned Owls

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I’m back! After I finished my Arizona Trail Trek at the end of May, I had a mere three weeks to rest up before starting my season as a guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. I worked five trips this summer and have finally returned back home to Tucson.

Haven’t seen much of this place this year- it was six months and a day from the start of my thru-hike to the end of the season. Needless to say I was exhausted by the end, but after a couple of weeks of rest I am starting to feel like myself again.

Comanche Point and Palisades

Comanche Point and Palisades

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

I am very excited to share with you a short film made by the very talented Levi Davis about the Arizona Trail and the Arizona Trail Trek. It is so much fun to look back on the incredible experience I had this spring- please share it with folks you think might like it!

A million thanks again to all who made this trek possible, I couldn’t have done it without all the wonderful businesses and people who came together to help me achieve my dream of thru-hiking the Arizona Trail.

I’m looking forward to being back volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson it’s such a treat to be able to work with these fantastic birds and animals. My blog is also going back to raising money for Wildlife Rehab.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Yawning Baby Ringtail

Yawning Baby Ringtail

Harris' Antelope Squirrel munching on kale

Harris’ Antelope Squirrel munching on kale

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View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

May 15-22

After a wonderful time on the Women’s Backpacking trip, the next day I led a group of folks on a hike from Sandy’s Canyon into Flagstaff. It was so exciting for me to reach Flagstaff on foot- it’s like my second home! The river company I work for in the summertime, Arizona River Runners, is based out of Flag and I spend quite a bit of time there.

Starting our hike into Flagstaff from Sandy's Canyon TH

Starting our hike into Flagstaff from Sandy’s Canyon TH

Hiking under I-40

Hiking under I-40

Hiking through Flagstaff

Trail through Flagstaff

We had a great time on the hike into town and reached Flagstaff around noon. My dad met me and after lunch, took me up to Schultz Pass so that I could hike the remainder of the passage and connect my steps back into Flagstaff. I took a solemn break at the Dale Shewalter memorial and thanked him for his vision of this fantastic trail that connects the state. My friend and co-worker on the river Chelsea was waiting for me at Buffalo Park in the evening and we met some other river folk for dinner.

Elden Mountain

Elden Mountain

Inquisitive Deer

Inquisitive Deer

Memorial for Dale Shewalter- Father of the Arizona Trail

Memorial for Dale Shewalter- Father of the Arizona Trail

Dale Shewalter MemorialThe next day, my husband Brian drove up to Flagstaff to see me and I got to relax a bit before the Gateway Community Event at Wanderlust Brewing Company. What a wonderful event! The place was packed, the weather was perfect for the patio, and the Diamond Down String Band provided tunes for people to dance to. I was honored that members of the Shewalter family attended the event. It just so happened that the event fell on Dale Shewalter’s birthday, totally unplanned but a fantastic coincidence.

Great night for some music, food, and beer at Wanderlust Brewing Company

Great night for some music, food, and beer at Wanderlust Brewing Company

Unfortunately, about 20 minutes before the end of the event, I started to feel sick. Even had to go throw up a couple times before the night was over (and I don’t even drink!). It ended up being a total pukefest back at the hotel that lasted all night long.

The next morning, Brian did all he could to help me out. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hike the 10 miles I had scheduled- I was so weak and still felt sick. Thankfully by the afternoon, I was feeling somewhat human and had Brian drop me off at Snowbowl to hike down to Schultz Pass. I got it done, but hiking is no fun at all when you’re tired and have to stop to throw up. In the evening, Brian helped me pack for the next passages. I was so glad that he was there to take care of me and that I hadn’t gotten sick when solo deep in the wilderness.

Peaks!

Peaks!

In the morning, I felt a million times better and one of the ladies from the Women’s trip, Anne McGuffey, came to pick me up to take me to Snowbowl to continue north. She’s planning on a future thru-hike and was excited to see parts of the trail she hadn’t seen before while running support for me. She dropped me off around 10:30 and we planned on meeting at Kelly Tank in the afternoon.

This is one of the parts of the trail that wasn’t complete when I hiked it in 2008 and the end result is gorgeous!! Winding trail through aspen glades, views of the Peaks and fancy signs telling me I have less than 200 miles until Utah.

Micro Chicken is getting ever closer to Utah!

Micro Chicken is getting ever closer to Utah!

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

I reached FR 418 and realized that I’d lost my hiking poles! Shoot. Back up the trail I went and thankfully they were less than 15 minutes away. The Peaks got farther away and I entered the White Horse Hills, covered in downed burned trees but still attractive.

White Horse Hills

White Horse Hills

Anne was waiting for me at dry Kelly Tank and we took a lunch break with the sound of mooing cows. We planned on meeting for camp off of FR 416 near Missouri Bill Hill. The remainder of the day was spent hiking on FR 416, a rocky two-track road.

Roadwalkin'

Roadwalkin’

I reached a gate on the west side of Missouri Bill Hill and could see the next passage through the Babbitt Ranch to the north. I got to the base of the hill and started to look for Anne’s car. No Anne. My feet were pretty tired by this time, I’d already gone 21 miles. I tried to call, but there was no cell reception. Only thing to do is keep hiking. I figured she was just down the road, but it was a tense couple of miles until I found her camp right before dark. My longest day yet- 23 miles since 10:30.

Missouri Bill Hill and the Peaks

Missouri Bill Hill and the Peaks

The next day was spent traversing the Babbitt Ranch- a landscape like no other on the AZT. The “trail” is actually on a series of ranch roads. It is generally a windy area, but on this day there was a red flag warning on top of it- gale force winds all day long.

Volcanic hills and the Peaks

Volcanic hills

I reached Tub Ranch and saw an antelope dash off and a group of horses milling about. Strangely, I saw no cows the entire day.

Horses

Horses

The Peaks receded into the distance and I hiked the dusty, windy road. Anne ended up leapfrogging with me the rest of the day, since she could drive the trail. It was great to have her support and I ended up hiking through the whole ranch in one 22-mile day. It was also helpful to have her around because so many of the water sources I’d normally have relied on were dry. We camped at the Kaibab Forest Boundary.

Windy Roadwalk

Windy Roadwalk

So much wind.

So much wind.

Ranch road walkin'

Ranch road walkin’

The next day Anne left and I backpacked the rest of the way to the Grandview Lookout Tower south of the Grand Canyon. My feet were pretty sore from the previous two days and I was happy to be back on singletrack again. Not a fan of roadwalking.

Thanks Anne!!

Thanks Anne!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trail pleasantly wound through the pinyon and juniper, I skipped the side-trip to Moqui Stage Station as I’d seen the ruins in 2009. I reached Russell Tank, also dry this year. Thankfully a generous trail steward had cached me some water nearby.

After Russell Tank, the trail reached the Coconino Rim and began heading west. I got my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I could see the white Coconino cliffbands and the forested North Rim. Giddy with excitement, I had a little on-trail celebration at seeing my favorite place. Soon enough I’d be hiking through.

I found a spot to camp and then the next morning hiked the rest of the way to Grandview. I climbed the lookout tower (scary but great views!) and then my friend Tom came and got me. Later, I met Levi, the videographer, at the Grand Canyon so that we could shoot some footage. Good thing we didn’t wait for the following day- smoke from the Slide Fire in Sedona had completely obliterated the view.

Grandview Lookout Tower

Grandview Lookout Tower

View from Grandview Lookout Tower

View of the Grand Canyon from Grandview Lookout Tower

The next day I hiked from Grandview to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It was a little anticlimactic because this was my view:

Filled with smoke from the Slide Fire

Filled with smoke from the Slide Fire

Next up: Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon!

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Starting out at Mormon Lake

Starting out at Mormon Lake- Anne, Velma, Chris, Susan, Sirena, Cynthia, Sistine, Silver, India (myself)

May 12-14

Ten women, one mini-donkey and one therapy dog came from across Arizona—Tucson, Tempe, Sedona and Flagstaff—to join Sirena on a multi-day, 32-mile backpack as she traversed most of Passage 30 (Mormon Lake) and a portion of Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), leading her ever closer to Flagstaff on her Arizona Trail Trek thru-hike. We came singly, or in pairs; some to support Sirena and promote the trail, some because of a prior professional connection and ongoing passion for the trail, some under the guise of a Mother’s Day retreat, and others to test their gear and skills in preparation for thru-hikes of their own, on the AZT and PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). All of us came to hike hard, camp under the stars, and create a shared experience on a beautiful high elevation, ponderosa, pinon and juniper lined stretch of Arizona’s National Scenic Trail.

Aspen at the approach to Navajo Spring

Aspen at the approach to Navajo Spring

We gathered at the end point (Sandy’s Canyon trailhead) and were shuttled to the start point at Mormon Lake Lodge by volunteers including Jim and Carol McFadden and Sirena’s dad. Larry Snead, former Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association, was there to send us off with good wishes. After brief introductions we were on the trail, eager to get to know one another while logging some miles and trying to keep warm—a front was blowing through and had lowered the expected idyllic high 70s/low 40s to a much crisper high 50s/low 20s, accompanied by a relentless wind.

Old logging railroad interpretive signage

Old logging railroad interpretive signage

We hiked the short spur from Mormon Lake Lodge that connected us with the AZT. From here we passed our first grove of aspen, snacked at Navajo Spring, and followed an historic railroad bed built for the logging industry in the early twentieth century. Interpretive signs dotted the trail and added to the experience. Water was flowing from Wallace Spring as we passed by Double Springs Campground and rejoined the old railroad bed through a canopy of ponderosa pines.

Flowing water at Double Springs

Flowing water at Double Springs

Sampling the big ponderosas to find one that smells like butterscotch

Sampling the big ponderosas to find one that smells like butterscotch

Hiking alongside the historic logging railroad

Hiking alongside the historic logging railroad

We knew the first day’s hiking was nearing its end when Leigh Anne & Jasmine and Bonnie & Dr. Otis greeted us on the trail for the hike into our first camp near Lake Mary Road. What a welcome treat to be joined by these AZT legends! We awoke the next morning to Jasmine’s braying and fresh coffee “in bed.” How did we get so lucky?!

Leigh Anne & Jasmine and Bonnie & Dr. Otis joined and supported the crew

Leigh Anne & Jasmine and Bonnie & Dr. Otis joined and supported the crew

Leigh Anne makes the morning rounds - Sirena gets a pour of Joe

Leigh Anne makes the morning rounds – Sirena gets a pour of joe

On day 2, the trail continued to follow the historic railroad grade. As we headed north, the tree canopy began to thin and we made the short climb up onto the lava flow that mantles Anderson Mesa. We passed a very chilly black-necked gartersnake and found a wind-blown, handwritten “trail ‘hello!'” note that was possibly intended for cowboy Terry, before stopping for lunch near the Horse Lake trailhead, where we left our four-legged friends and their handlers for the trek across the basalt (but not until after they’d filled us up with water that we hadn’t had to carry, cookies, and kettle corn!).

Sirena on the approach towards Horse Lake

Sirena on the approach towards Horse Lake

The rocky trek across Anderson Mesa

The rocky trek across Anderson Mesa

Into the wind and along the road we continued, past Horse Lake, until we could no longer take the biting wind. We found a somewhat protected spot tucked amongst the junipers where we soaked up the last rays of the sun, watched the full moon rise, and sheltered for the night.

Full moon rising over camp

Full moon rising over camp

The next day we were treated to repeated stellar, sweeping views of the San Francisco Peaks looming ever closer in front of us as we continued our trek through the pinon and juniper woodland of Anderson Mesa, past Vail Lake. We were also afforded lovely views of Upper Lake Mary and Mormon Mountain before turning north towards Prime Lake, and on to our lunch spot near Lowell Observatory, where we were reunited with Jasmine and Otis and the gang, who once again refilled us with water, cookies and companionship.

The Peaks!

The Peaks!

What a great group!

What a great group!

Views of

Views of Upper Lake Mary and Mormon Mountain

Jasmine rejoins the herd

Jasmine rejoins the herd

One cow elk was spotted, and Sirena had several close encounters with horned lizards as we hiked past dry Marshall Lake. Continuing north, we began slowly descending through Kaibab Limestone and Coconino Sandstone, and through very recently burned areas, the result of April’s Fisher Fire.

Marshall Lake

Marshall Lake

Starting the descent into Walnut Canyon

Starting the descent into Walnut Canyon

Foreground to background: Recent Fisher fire damage, Walnut Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks

Foreground to background: Recent Fisher fire damage, Walnut Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks

Finally, we descended a few switchbacks into Walnut Canyon where we were awed by cross-bedded sandstone cliffs basked in an orange sunset glow. We spent a long while inhaling the panorama, avoiding what we knew was coming for all but Sirena—the end of our backpacking escape. A short hike up and out of Walnut Canyon, past early blooming irises, brought us to our waiting cars and inevitable goodbye-for-nows.

Cross-bedded sandstone cliffs

Cross-bedded sandstone cliffs near the head of Walnut Canyon

Nobody wanted to leave this special place

Nobody wanted to leave this special place

Sirena and sandstone

Sirena and sandstone

All of us were grateful for the support afforded us on this trek by co-hikers and volunteers, and envious of Sirena as she continued northwards without us. Just a reminder- the campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona National Scenic Trail will stay open until the end of June- already over $18,000 has been raised!  Donate now, and consider becoming a member of the Arizona Trail Association.

Jasmine represents, and you can, too!

Jasmine represents, and you can, too!

Sirena and her little friend

Sirena and friend

Walnut Canyon iris

Walnut Canyon iris

P-J Zone guest blogger trail selfie

Guest blogger trail selfie

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Pines as far as the eye can see

Pines as far as the eye can see

May 8-11

After I had a day to recover from my Very Bad Day on the Highline Trail, I was ready to keep hiking. But as I was getting ready to leave, I got a call that a news station in Phoenix wanted to do an interview with me. After some technical difficulties, I got the interview done around 10:30. I decided to dayhike southbound so that I could still get my miles in. My neck and back were still pretty sore from hitting my head on the Highline Trail. My dad, support crew extraordinaire, dropped me off on the Blue Ridge passage.

Happy to be in the cool pines!

Happy to be in the cool pines!

This area marks a stark transition from the rugged deserts and mountains of Southern Arizona for one big reason- the Mogollon Rim. The Rim is an escarpment of cliffs that marks the edge of the Colorado Plateau. Once you are on top of the Mogollon Rim, all of a sudden you’re in the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world! The trail is at 7000 feet elevation, the weather is cool, and the walking flat and easy. It’s like a whole different trail.

Singletrack through the pines

Singletrack through the pines

I descended to the East Clear Creek crossing, only there was sadly no water to cross. All thoughts I’d had of taking a nice break near the creek vanished and I hiked on. I spent some time catching a horned lizard, one of my favorite trail activities.

Just a tiny horned lizard

Just a tiny horned lizard

The trail meandered among the pines and then came to the highlight of the passage: hiking in General Springs Canyon. What a beautiful piece of trail, next to a running creek on a perfect day with big fluffy clouds in the sky. I had to take a break to dunk my feet. My body has been holding up well on this hike, except for my middle toe on my right foot. It started hurting a week or so ago and now won’t stop. I keep it ensconced in a wrapping of Band-Aid Blister Bandages to cushion it. I hurt it during river season last year and the endless rocks of Arizona have given it quite a pounding.

Beautiful General Springs Canyon

Beautiful General Springs Canyon

After my creekside break, the trail followed along the stream until it reached General Springs Cabin, built in 1918 as a fire station.

General Springs Cabin

General Springs Cabin

I hiked toward FR 300, which runs along the edge of the Mogollon Rim. The trail descended steeply and then crossed the East Verde River, the same river I’d played in near the LF Ranch in the Mazatzals.

Coming off the Mogollon Rim

Coming off the Mogollon Rim

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe running creek was too good to resist, so I dunked my feet again and enjoyed the sound of rushing water and birdsong.

Feet-in-the-creek break

Feet-in-the-creek break

I reached Washington Park and my dad right as it was getting dark, he had just seen a bear cross the road nearby. We went back for one last night in Pine.

One last look at the Mogollon Rim

One last look at the Mogollon Rim

The next day, I didn’t get on the trail until 11:30, I had a bunch of emails and planning for the next segments to do. My dad dropped me off where I left off so that I could backpack for the next three days to Mormon Lake.

I had a small piece of the Blue Ridge passage left before crossing Highway 87. It was a gorgeous day, the weather was fantastic and after a while I realized that I could hike in a skirt instead of pants. I stopped to change and eat a snack and continued hiking.

Skirt weather!

Skirt weather!

After a while, I came to a road crossing and trailhead that looked way too familiar. How could it be- I ended up back at the trailhead I’d been dropped off an hour before!! I had gotten turned around after my break and I walked right back the way I came! Since the sun was overhead and the pine forest looks all the same, I hadn’t realized my mistake. Feeling sheepish, I turned myself around again and hiked the next half-hour of trail for the third time.

Finally I crossed 87 and the trail continued on singletrack toward Jack’s Canyon. I reached the 500-mile mark of the trip and had a little celebration.

Five Hundred Miles!!

Five Hundred Miles!!

The trail through Jack’s Canyon was pleasant, winding along the canyon bottom. Took a break to enjoy some strawberry jalapeno goat cheese and crackers and goat milk fudge from Fossil Creek Creamery- yum!!

The singletrack ended and I hiked along a series of two-track roads for the rest of the day. My right foot was really sore, sometimes sending shooting pains up my middle toe if I stepped on it wrong. The rocky roads didn’t help matters any. I found a spot to camp among the pines with soft needles covering the rocky ground.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next day was spent traveling a series of two-tracks. I thought I’d see people out for the weekend but maybe they were kept away by the cold, incessant wind. Only saw two guys camped near Bargaman Park. Stopped to talk to them and they filled up my water bottles and gave me a cold pineapple juice. I saw many groups of elk and lots of birds, often when I would approach one of the water sources. One red-tailed hawk sat in a tree, screaming over and over again to others in the area.

Hiking two-track roads

Hiking two-track roads

Beautiful Iris

Beautiful Iris

I hiked until it got too dark to see the trail and set up camp. My feet were killing me, having been relentlessly pounded by the rocky ground. Made dinner and called my dad, who suggested he meet me tomorrow morning and take my pack so that I could carry minimal weight for the final 9 miles into Mormon Lake.

The next morning it was cold with a biting wind and overcast. The remaining miles to the end of the passage were pleasant singletrack through bright green grasses. My dad met me at the trailhead with a second breakfast and a coffee- yay! I offloaded some of my stuff and continued on to Mormon Lake. Thanks Dad!!

Singletrack through the grasses

Singletrack through the grasses

Micro Chicken with a fancy feather

Micro Chicken with a fancy feather

I crossed Lake Mary Road and made my way along the windblown trail. I was all layered up and still chilly while hiking! The trail wound through the ponderosa pines and soon I was at the junction for Mormon Lake Lodge. Hiked down the mile-long access trail to meet my dad at the lodge and say hi to Larry Snead, former director of the Arizona Trail Association. It was snowing! Just flurries, but remember just over a week ago I’d been overheating hiking out of the East Verde River valley. My dad groaned about the weather, he lives in the Chicago area and they’d had the worst winter ever and now here he was, back in the cold again!

Hiking toward Mormon Lake

Hiking toward Mormon Lake

Mormon Lake Lodge

Mormon Lake Lodge

It was always such a treat to see my dad at the end of a day of hiking. He would drop me off, then go on his own adventures exploring the area, then we’d get together and share stories and pictures. He’s definitely where I got my sense of adventure from. So glad he has been such a big part of the hike, he’s the best support crew ever! He came out and helped me a lot when I was section-hiking the trail in 2008-09 and it’s so much fun to be able to do it all over again. It’s been almost 20 years since I moved away from the Chicago suburbs, so to spend this much time with my dad is definitely something I’ll cherish about this journey.

My dad and I went into Flagstaff for the night to warm up and got dinner from my favorite- Pato Thai- and checked into a hotel with a hot tub. It was just what I needed for my windswept, chilly, footsore self.

Up next: a guest blog about the Women’s Backpacking Trip!

I am keeping the fundraiser for the Arizona Trail Association open until the end of June- to date $17,800 has been raised! Click here to donate and help us reach $20,000!

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